WrestleMania XXVI thoughts

“I’ve got an opportunity that most people don’t get — to go out with my head held high and be able to hear, ‘He didn’t stay around too long. His last ‘x’ amount of years were really special.’ ”

-- Shawn Michaels, talking about his match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI possibly being his last, in an interview with me on March 18

Shawn Michaels – the man known as “Mr. WrestleMania” – stole the show at WWE’s signature event for what is likely the final time. With Michaels’ loss to The Undertaker in the thrilling main event of WrestleMania XXVI Sunday night, the curtain appears to have fallen on “The Showstopper’s” brilliant 26-year career.

Yes, this is pro wrestling, where no one really retires even if they get a grand send-off (Ric Flair, Roddy Piper and Randy Savage all had their “retirement” matches at WrestleMania, only to return), but Michaels just may be the exception. One thing is for sure, if Michaels is indeed hanging up the tights for good, he can do so knowing that he still is as good as any performer in the business.

He and The Undertaker – who is a great performer in his own right and more than held up his end in the match – had the unenviable task Sunday night of trying to live up to their match at last year’s show, which is considered by many to be the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. I’m not sure that they topped it, but they may have equaled it.

Sunday’s match had an entirely different vibe from last year’s because of the Career vs. The Streak implications. This time, fans truly believed that Undertaker could lose. Either way, they were guaranteed to witness something historic, whether it was The Undertaker falling to 17-1 at WrestleMania or Michaels being forced to walk away from the business.

While Michaels-Undertaker II more than lived up to the hype, the match that was nearly 13-years in the making – Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon – did not. Hart finally got his revenge on McMahon for the “Montreal Screwjob,” but a grudge match that would at one time have been a huge deal went on sixth on the 10-match show and garnered just modest heat from the crowd. You have to wonder what was going through Hart’s mind Sunday night as he watched his longtime rival Michaels overshadow him once again.

Overall, WrestleMania XXVI – which had an announced attendance of 72,219 at University of Phoenix Stadium – was an entertaining show. Only one new champion was crowned, as John Cena defeated Batista to regain the WWE title. In the biggest surprise of the night, Jack Swagger won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match.

Here is a match-by-match look at the show:

The Undertaker defeated Shawn Michaels (23:59): This was simply a great piece of storytelling by two of pro wrestling’s all-time greats. Michaels made it clear from the start that he was not intimidated by The Undertaker, as he no-sold Undertaker’s spooky entrance and then did the throat-slash gesture that The Undertaker is known for when they were face to face before the bell. The Undertaker sold an injury to his left knee early in the match after landing awkwardly on his Old School maneuver from the top rope. Michaels concentrated his attack on the knee throughout the match, making it appear that The Undertaker was ripe for defeat on this night. Near the 11-minute mark, Michaels attempted a moonsault onto the floor, but The Undertaker caught him and hit a Tombstone on the floor. Michaels later countered Hell’s Gate and turned it into a pin attempt. From there, Michaels and Undertaker took turns kicking out of each other’s finishers, keeping the fans on the edges of their seats. After the 17-minute mark, Undertaker went for The Last Ride onto the announce table, but Michaels got free and hit Sweet Chin Music, knocking Undertaker onto the table. Michaels followed up with a moonsault off the top rope onto Undertaker’s injured leg, as they both went crashing through the table. Back in the ring, Undertaker hit another Tombstone, but Michaels again kicked out.

Undertaker then stood over the fallen Michaels and was about to do the throat-slash gesture, but he stopped, looked down at Michaels in a rare display of compassion and said, “Stay down.” A weakened Michaels used The Undertaker’s body to try and steady himself, and then he did the throat-slash and slapped Undertaker hard across the face. A furious Undertaker scooped up Michaels and delivered a jumping Tombstone to finish Michaels and improve his WrestleMania record to 18-0. After the match, Undertaker helped Michaels to his feet and they shook hands and embraced. Undertaker left the ring and the crowd chanted “HBK” and “Thank you, Shawn.” A teary-eyed Michaels saluted the crowd. As he was walking to the back – presumably for the last time – Michaels said, “I’ll be driving my kids nuts in three weeks.” It’s just a real shame that Jim Ross wasn’t able to call this match. No disrespect to Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and Matt Striker, but there is only one man who could have done this WrestleMania classic justice, and that’s J.R.

Bret Hart defeated Vince McMahon in a No Holds Barred Match (11:09): Before the match started, McMahon said that he had bought off Hart’s family – The Hart Dynasty and Hart’s brothers and sisters – and that they were going to be lumberjacks, with Bret’s brother Bruce Hart as the special referee. Bret was one step ahead of McMahon, however, as the Hart family double-crossed the WWE chairman and sided with Bret. There are two words that describe this match: too long. Hart and McMahon waited too long to have the match, and the match itself went on for too long. Given the age and physical limitations of the 52-year-old Hart and 64-year-old McMahon, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but this was worse than I thought it would be. There just wasn’t much to it. Hart beat on McMahon, then Hart’s family members got some shots in on McMahon (including THD, who apparently have no fear of being fired), and then Hart beat on McMahon some more. Hart teased putting McMahon in the Sharpshooter a couple times but then decided to inflict more punishment. At about the 10-minute mark, Jerry Lawler said, “This is hard to watch.” You said it, King. Mercifully, the match ended less than a minute later after McMahon tapped out in the Sharpshooter. One good thing about this match is that Tyson Kidd, David Hart Smith and Natalya may end up getting a push because of it. They all physically assaulted McMahon, so I’m assuming they are now babyfaces and that McMahon will be seeking retribution.

John Cena defeated WWE champion Batista to win the title (13:31): Other than the Undertaker-Michaels match, this one had the most crowd heat. Cena and Batista – two guys the Internet Wrestling Community loves to hate on – showed once again that they are far better workers than they’re given credit for, and they have good chemistry together in the ring. It was played up in commentary that Batista was going after Cena’s neck, which was injured the last time Cena wrestled Batista, at SummerSlam 2008. Batista hit a wicked DDT that appeared to legitimately jam Cena’s neck. Either Cena was truly hurting or he did one heck of a sell job. After both guys kicked out of each other’s finisher, Batista had Cena set up for another Batista Bomb when Cena rolled through and locked the STF on Batista, who struggled a bit before tapping out. After the match, Cena – with a big smile on his face – posed with some guys in the front row wearing anti-Cena T-shirts. That was funny. Cena, by the way, is now a nine-time world champion and is 6-1 at WrestleMania – including 5-1 in world title matches.

World heavyweight champion Chris Jericho defeated Edge (15:48): These two had a good back-and-forth match and I think the right guy won. I’m sure Edge will get the title soon enough, but Jericho truly is one of the best in the world at what he does and he deserves a victory of this magnitude. There was a nice spot at about the 12-minute mark when Edge went for a spear but Jericho caught him with The Codebreaker for a near fall. A short while later, Jericho nailed Edge with the title belt and made the cover for what felt like the finish, but Edge kicked out. When that happened, I thought for sure Jericho was going to lose, but he quickly hit another Codebreaker for the win. Edge got his heat back after the match by spearing Jericho off the announce table and through the barricade. Jericho took a nasty-looking bump on that one and was attended to by medics.

Rey Mysterio defeated CM Punk (6:30): This was a good match but it could have been a lot better if they had been given more time. The Triple H-Sheamus match was nearly twice as long as this one, which is unfortunate (but not surprising). Hopefully, Mysterio and Punk will get an opportunity to work a longer match on the next pay-per-view. Mysterio got the win – thus avoiding having to join Punk’s Straight Edge Society – after foiling the outside interference of Luke Gallows and Serena and then hitting the 619 and springboard splash.

Jack Swagger won the Money in the Bank ladder match over Shelton Benjamin, Evan Bourne, Christian, Matt Hardy, Kane, Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre, MVP and Dolph Ziggler (13:44): The MITB ladder match is always entertaining, although this wasn’t as spectacular as previous ones. There didn’t seem to be as many crazy spots this time. Benjamin, who frequently steals the show in these matches (but never wins), didn’t stand out. Bourne took the biggest bump when he was tossed off the ladder from high up by Hardy. Kingston had a unique spot in which he used two halves of a broken ladder as stilts. In the end, Christian and Swagger were battling on top of a ladder when Swagger slammed the briefcase into the face of Christian, who dropped to the mat. Time then stood still as Swagger repeatedly tried to unhook the briefcase. Thankfully, he finally got it. I think Swagger is an excellent choice to get a push, but I have a strange feeling that he is going to be the first MITB winner to cash in the contract and fail to win the title.

Triple H defeated Sheamus (12:09): Triple H scored a hard-fought victory, as Sheamus was made to look strong in defeat. After being weakened by a kick to the temple, Triple H took advantage of a slight hesitation on Sheamus’ part and suddenly hit the Pedigree for the victory.

Randy Orton defeated Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes in a triple threat match (9:01): This match went exactly as I thought it would. DiBiase and Rhodes worked together to dominate Orton early, but they couldn’t stay on the same page and it eventually became every man for himself. After punting Rhodes in the head, Orton hit the RKO on DiBiase and pinned him. It was a convincing win for Orton, who had the crowd behind him. It will be interesting to see where DiBiase and Rhodes go from here.

WWE unified tag team champions The Miz and The Big Show defeated John Morrison and R-Truth (3:24): These guys were given almost the exact amount of time the divas were given for their match. The finish came out of nowhere, as Big Show nailed Morrison with the knockout punch while Morrison was attempting a springboard. Losing clean in just a few minutes made Morrison and R-Truth look pretty weak. After all the great matches Morrison was having last summer, who could have envisioned this is what he’d end up doing at WrestleMania?

Alicia Fox, Vickie Guerrero, Layla, Maryse and Michelle McCool defeated Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, Gail Kim, Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres (3:26): This was pretty much a cluster, as everyone was hitting their finishers (some sloppily) in rapid succession. Guerrero got the pin on Kelly Kelly after hitting the worst-looking frog splash of all time. Just wondering: Why did WWE play Eve’s entrance music for the babyfaces rather than James’ or Phoenix’s?

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